Call it a day, sack out, hit the rack, pound my pillow, catch some ZZZs, turn in, or whatever you call it, it was exactly what I was not doing. I had suffered from insomnia for decades. I had trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep and I would often wake up early. My brain would just not shut off! When I moved into my tiny house last January, I worried about how I would sleep. I share my house with my daughter and a one-year-old dog. Now that I didn’t have my own bedroom, what was the likelihood, I would ever sleep again! Sleeping in my own room, in a traditional house was taxing enough, sleeping in a smaller shared space was going to be a real challenge. I had no options but to tackle my decades-old problem head-on.
The first thing I did was research the 5 stages of sleep. Reading about the sleep stages gave me a general understanding of what my brain was doing at night.
5 Stages of Sleep
Intro to Sleep/Drowsiness
5-10 minutes or roughly 5% of your sleep
You begin to relax. The physical world starts to fade away. The brain produces theta waves. From this stage, you can easily be woken up. Your head might nod. You head might jerk for no reason. The jolt that makes you feel wide awake is called a myoclonic jerk. Thinking back to college, I can remember several students who would head-bob within the first five minutes of class.
Beginning of Sleep
20-30 minutes or roughly 45-50% of your sleep
Your brain starts to produce sleep spindles. Your body temperature starts to cool, and your heart rate slows down. It is a light, dreamless sleep. The body relaxes. It is still easy to wake up and engage. If you are prone to snoring, your upper airway may start collapsing and snoring begins. Deep sleep is so close you can almost taste it.
Roughly 5% of your sleep
The body is resting and producing theta delta brain waves or “slow wave sleep.” Brain activity decreases. Muscles are relaxed. If you awaken from this state, you may be groggy. One time I woke up so disoriented I rushed to get dressed for work. I thought it was 6am, it was 6pm on a Saturday.
Roughly 15% of your sleep
Your blood pressure drops. This is the time when the body is restoring itself, muscles repair, tissue grows. It’s also the time when you may have bad dreams, sleepwalk, and children wet the bed. Your brain is producing delta theta waves. When I am lucky enough to get to this stage, I have been known to sleep talk.
Rapid Eye Movement
Roughly 20% of your sleep
Rapid eye movement. This is where dreams happen. Most people have around 1400+ dreams a year. (Now if we could only remember them!) Our breathing quickens, Our eyes dart back and forth. (Have you ever seen your dog do this?) All of our muscles are paralyzed except the heart and lungs. It’s that paralyzation that may make it difficult to wake up. Have you ever had the alarm go off but you thought it was only in your dream? It is in this stage reality blurs with dreaming. Those with sleep apnea may suffer as their airways can completely collapse making it difficult to resume normal breathing.
Each cycle takes about 90 minutes, and the average person repeats the cycle 4 to 5 times a night. The 5 stages of sleep are essential for restorative sleep. According to Psychology Today, “These five stages of sleep must be achieved for restorative sleep to occur, in which the brain repairs itself by achieving brain wave regulation and creating needed connections through the brain.”
Experts at Sleepsomatics say that “Patients usually don’t know they are deprived of restorative sleep; rather, they’re tired, fatigued, moody, or just don’t feel healthy, rested, or well. Perception of total time slept, and quality of sleep is often wrong, causing patients deficient in restorative sleep to go untested because they think they got sufficient sleep.”
What Happens When You Miss the Mark
We all know what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. Apart from looking a little worse for wear, you get cranky and short-tempered. You can’t think straight, and you forget things. You are more accident prone because your reflexes are slower. Not getting enough sleep also increases your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease or having a stroke. Long-term sleep deprivation is also associated with Alzheimer’s and higher rates of prostate, breast and colorectal cancers.
Dr. Walia from the Cleveland Clinic recommends the following hours of sleep:
Older adults, 65+ years: 7-8 hours
Adults, 26-64 years: 7-9 hours
Young adults, 18-25 years: 7-9 hours
Teenagers, 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
School-age children, 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
Preschool children, 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
Toddlers, 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
Infants, 4-11 months: 12-15 hours
Newborns, 0-3 months: 14-17 hours
Remedies for Poor Sleep
When it comes to remedies, I have tried just about everything recommended out there. I don’t have sleep apnea, so that was not causing my sleep deprivation. Since moving into my tiny house a year ago, I have made an aggressive effort to set myself up for sleeping success. No single technique or recommendation helps. I’m a tough nut. I do a combination of these 18 things to send me soundly to sleep. While the list might look daunting, it’s not, and if you are desperate for sleep, you’ll do anything for it!
- I wear a sleep mask. It took me weeks to adjust to this but it blocks out any residual light, like my daughter’s reading lamp at night and the light from the smoke detector (yes those things bother me).
- I have set up the bed as an electronic free zone at night. I don’t want to be tempted to check emails or the time in the middle of the night.
- Music with lyrics is very distracting for me. I am too busy concentrating on the lyrics. If I put music on it has to be instrumental and low. Sometimes I like to listen to a Reiki playlist (the kind you will hear during a massage). I don’t use headphones as laying on them hurts my ears. If my daughter wants to hear something else she has to put her headphones on. (Suck it up buttercup.)
- My sleeping area is a cool temperature. My daughter and I are both hot sleepers. She gets cold more easily, so she has more blankets on her bed. I have one. I’ll even crack my window if I need to.
- I don’t have a separate alarm clock (I use the one on my phone which is charging across the room), so the light doesn’t keep me up.
- I have soothing bamboo sheets, comfy pillows, and a very comfortable mattress. I love a luxurious bed, even in a tiny house.
- I don’t wear anything to bed that makes me overheat or hangs up under the covers. (In other words, I sleep with very little on.)
- I used to always need white noise, but I am training myself to sleep without it because the white noise bothers my daughter. Sometimes you have to compromise in a tiny house.
- Meditate, and yes it helps.
- I stretch before bed. Try stretching out all of the kinks and hunches from the day.
- I practice yoga in the mornings (morning exercise is supposed to help you sleep better, rather than exercising in the evening. It helps your body release melatonin in the evenings.)
- I don’t eat heavy meals in the evening as I know digesting can make it difficult for me to sleep.
- I use aromatherapy. I use 3 drops of bergamot + 3 drops of lavender in a diffuser or one drop of each on the outside of my sleep mask.
- I don’t have any caffeine after noon.
- I take magnesium
- I have a regular sleep routine. 7 days a week, I go to bed at 10p and wake up at 6am. Since it takes me a while to get to sleep, I usually average 7.5 hours of sleep a night now. My daughter goes to bed at the same time. If she wants to stay up and watch a movie on her laptop, she will put her headphones on.
- I drink nutmeg tea before bed (1/4 teaspoon of crushed nutmeg in boiling water). It seems to be helping.
- When I am really struggling, I will use the 4-7-8 breath technique I learned from Dr. Weil – “After all the air is out of your lungs, close your mouth. Silently breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this 4-7-8 technique for a total of four breath cycles.”
Not all sleeping techniques will work for everyone. I have tried many techniques that simply didn’t work for me. But just because one didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Give them a shot and see if they work for you.
- Keep pen and paper by your bed and write down a list of worries or to-dos
- Melatonin supplements
- Reading a book
- Counting Sheep
- Exercising before bed
- Tensing and releasing your muscles
After years of struggling to get some consistent restorative sleep, I have finally conquered my insomnia. I feel so much better. My body has adjusted to my bedtime routine. I am sleeping better in my tiny house than I ever did in my traditional house and you can’t imagine the relief.
Do you have trouble getting and staying asleep? If so, do you do anything that helps you sleep sounder? Do you have a regular nighttime regimen? If you live in a tiny house, have you noticed any differences in your sleep? Please let me know in the comments below.
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